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The savage slave mistress: Punishing women in the British Caribbean, 1750–1834

Burnard, Trevor; Coleman, Deirdre


Deirdre Coleman



In 1775, on a tour of the West Indies, Henry Smeathman produced a sketch entitled Creole Delicacy or The Domestic Felicity of Africans in the West Indies (published 1788). The image depicts a flogging presided over by an elegantly dressed white woman slave owner, standing tall in marked contrast to her spreadeagled victim. Smeathman's aim is to present a naturalistic portrait of an everyday event, one which reveals the white woman's “private” flogging as continuous with the cruelty of the cane fields. Drawing upon both visual and literary representations of the cruel white slave mistress, including paintings, prints and drawings as well as travel narratives, diaries, and abolitionist and didactic literature, the authors show that white women's agency regarding slavery has been “profoundly underestimated,” leading to a double erasure of them and the enslaved people they owned. The authors conclude that white women were not innocent bystanders to slavery's brutality.


Burnard, T., & Coleman, D. (in press). The savage slave mistress: Punishing women in the British Caribbean, 1750–1834. Atlantic Studies: Literary, Historical and Cultural Perspectives,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 25, 2021
Online Publication Date Aug 25, 2021
Deposit Date Sep 16, 2021
Publicly Available Date Feb 26, 2023
Journal Atlantic Studies : Global Currents
Print ISSN 1478-8810
Electronic ISSN 1740-4649
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords West Indies; Punishment; Women’s agency; Gender; Slavery; Race making; Tropics; Debauchery; Whipping; Henry Smeathman
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